Handing local environmentalists a temporary but significant victory, Judge James C. Chalfant of the Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday halted LA County Flood District’s Devil’s Gate sediment removal project at Pasadena’s Hahamongna Watershed Park.
In his ruling, Chalfant found that the project’s Final Environment Impact Report (FEIR) “lacks substantial evidence to support (the) conclusion that mitigation would be effective, and the district will have to newly analyze any proposed habitat mitigation and perform a feasibility analysis for the use of model year 2010 or later trucks. Until this is done, the FEIR must be set aside.”
Judge Chalfant noted that the first phase of the project involves sediment removal and would “immediately impact emission controls on hauling trucks and excavation and removal of sensitive habitat, the subject of the mitigation inadequacies found by the court.”
“The entire FEIR lacks the necessary information to support its certification,” said Chalfant. The ruling essentially halts all aspects of the project for now, from permits to actual work.
Members of the Arroyo Seco Foundation brought the lawsuit against the LA County Flood Control District last year, when the District sought approval to dig out up to 2.4 million cubic yards of sediment behind the dam to remove a threat that heavy rainstorms could inundate the dam and flood homes along the Arroyo Seco Channel.
“We hoped that he would vacate the approval (of the project),” said the Arroyo Seco Foundation’s attorney Mitchell Tsai, “but he actually achieved the same effect without vacating the approval.”
“This puts the project back in the County Supervisors’ court,” said Arroyo Seco Foundation Executive Direcctor Tim Brick, “and when we go back to the County Supervisors, we’re going to ask them to revise the entire project along more sensible lines.”
In halting the sediment-removal project Thursday, Judge Chalfant established a sequence of next steps for LA County to complete in order to move forward with the project.
LA County will need to obtain approval from the LA County Board of Supervisors of a focused supplemental report that provides additional support for the project’s 1-to-1 biological mitigation plan, said Chalfant, and clarify that the air quality mitigation measures will limit the use of dump trucks to those that meet the Air Quality Management District’s 2010 emissions standards.
Chalfant also ordered that the same biological mitigation measures for the project will also apply to a concept being explored by the County for a stormwater pipeline between Devil’s Gate Reservoir and the Eaton Canyon Spreading Grounds.
According to a statement from LA County Public Works, the public will then have 45 days to review the new reports and provide comments before they are submitted to the Board of Supervisors for consideration. If the Board of Supervisors issues its approval, the County will then file them with the Court. But, until the documents are approved by the Board and submitted to the Court, plans for the start of construction are put on hold.
Judge Chalfant’s overriding concern was the District’s plans to mitigate the environmental effects of the project, saying “the appropriate remedy is to order the district to avoid certification of the portion of the FEIR that discusses the mitigation measures,” adding that, “There is no need to decertify any other portion of the FEIR.”
The ruling continued, “The district must also suspend any project activity unless and until the necessary corrective actions are taken to comply with CEQA and the writ. The court will retain jurisdiction over the districts proceedings through a return to the writ until the court determines that the district has complied with CEQA and the writ.”